By Jerry N. Duncan
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — When we have hurt others in personal, deep and unfair ways, we need a way that we can help them heal. There is a very powerful technique I call “The Fourth Chapter Letter.”
Lewis Smedes in “Forgive and Forget” recommends a four-step process. I like his strategy and have added a fifth step.
Step No. 1: Take the time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine what you would have felt if you had been hurt in the same way you hurt them (e.g. betrayed, humiliated, abandoned, unloved, etc.). Write down these feelings. You will need them for step No. 2. This is not an easy task for men to do, but it prepares us to do one of the most important parts of this strategy.
Step No. 2: Write the person a letter, telling them that you took the time to put yourself in their shoes and what you felt (e.g. betrayed, humiliated, abandoned, unloved, etc.). This is where your list from step No. 1 pays off. Make sure you use actual feeling words.
Step No. 3: Tell the person you are sorry you hurt them that way. It makes it a more meaningful “I’m sorry” if they know you realize what you are sorry for.
Step No. 4: Tell them you will never hurt them that way again. If you struggle with the thought that, “I don’t want to promise something that I am not sure I can do,” remember the millions of people who have vowed to “love, honor and cherish, in good times and bad, as long as we both shall live” who violate that promise hundreds of times in their marriage but would never consider eliminating that vow from their wedding ceremony.
We need to hear absolute commitments from important people in our lives, even though we realize it will be humanly impossible to accomplish the commitment “to the letter.”
It makes it a more meaningful “I’m sorry” if they know that you realize what you are sorry for.
Step No. 5: Ask the person if they will start forgiving you. Let them know that you now realize that forgiveness is a process. You do not expect it to happen overnight; you are just asking them if they will start.
I recommend that this process occur in writing. If you share this kind of information verbally, there is a high probability that the person you share it with will be experiencing strong emotions as you share it and will not be able to absorb the important healing content of your message to them.
Another advantage to it being in writing is that it will give them the opportunity to re-read these healing words over and over in the future when they are remembering the original hurt. Some individuals need to hear it verbally with the letter, and if you discover that would be helpful for them, do it and consider it a bonus.
Forgiveness is an art and a skill. It is clear in scripture that we are called to forgive and aid in the healing of others that we know are hurting. Sometimes we need help in understanding the practical “how to.” I hope you have found this series on forgiveness helpful for you in aiding those who come to you for direction in healing old hurt and recent hurt.